Patti and Robert Eger's deep faith makes it difficult for those closest to them to reconcile with the violent way they died.
Patti Eger's Bible study group, (from left) Jen Balser, Sherry Kenney, Karen Hastings, Patti Eger and Bridgitte Veilleux, pose for a photo together. Credit: Courtesy of Bridgitte Veilleux

The killing of a Bowdoin couple who friends described as honest, God-fearing people has left their tight-knit religious community wondering how to mourn their friends’ violent deaths while, perhaps someday, forgiving their alleged killer.

Patti Deraps Eger and Robert C. Eger Jr. were found slain in their Bowdoin home on April 18 with their friends Cynthia R. Eaton, 63, and David Lee Eaton, 66, of Florida. Joseph M. Eaton of Bowdoin, the son of the Eatons, has been charged with murder in the shooting deaths of the two couples.

The Egers’ friends who spoke with the Bangor Daily News following their death said the couple’s devout faith was a cornerstone of their personalities. That deep faith, however, makes it difficult for those closest to them to reconcile with the violent way they died.

“It’s traumatizing to think of what they went through,” said Sherry Kenney of Richmond, who has known the Egers for 23 years. “I don’t understand it, but God allowed it and I know [Patti Eger is] with Jesus now.”

The Eatons were staying with the Egers while they were in Maine to pick up their son from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. He left the prison last Friday at the end of his most recent sentence for violating his probation for domestic assault in 2015, according to Anna Black, a Maine Department of Corrections spokesperson.

The Egers were active members of the West Bowdoin Baptist Church. Patti Eger also started a Bible study group called the Women in Christ Fellowship and served on the board of a food pantry. She prayed daily and used her faith as a foundation to weather tough situations, according to Kenney, who was a member of Patti’s Bible study and scrapbooking groups.

“Her faith was not superficial,” Kenney said. “She had an astounding, deep understanding and anyone who knows her knows she lived it.”

The Egers’ position as leaders in their community also can deepen the sense of loss their loved ones feel, said Derek Michaud, a University of Maine professor who specializes in philosophy of religion, the history of philosophy and philosophical theology.

This is because people in leadership positions, formal or informal, would be the first ones to comfort people in tragic situations. When they’re the ones who are lost, however, that only amplifies a community’s loss, Michaud said.

“Knowing someone aimed their gun at them is the most traumatic experience I’ve ever had,” said Bridgitte Veilleux of Sidney, who first met the Egers about 20 years ago. “It’s hard and it’s confusing, but God doesn’t let something so terrible happen without a purpose.”

Some of the Egers’ friends said they’re experiencing simultaneous grief and anger toward the person who ended their best friends’ lives.

“I’m struggling with anger, and I know Patti wouldn’t want me to feel that,” said Veilleux, who also was a member of Patti’s Bible study and scrapbooking groups. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s OK for me to be angry right now. I’ll get there, but not today.”

Those emotions are further complicated by the fact that Patti Eger’s Bible study group previously prayed for Joseph Eaton, because she knew his parents and was aware of their son’s criminal history, Kenney said.

“I believe she forgave him and Jesus was with them through this,” Kenney said. “They’re in the arms of Jesus now. She’d be saying, ‘Don’t cry for me, I’m with the Lord.’”

Michaud said people of many faiths often find solace in the belief that they’ll see their loved ones in the afterlife. While that can bring comfort, it doesn’t necessarily diminish the grief, especially in a traumatic case.

“These people are going through an awful lot and faith can be a double-edged sword,” Michaud said. “One may assume the faith community makes it easier to deal with great tragedy, but that’s too simplistic.”

Feeling angry is also a natural part of the grieving process, and someone in mourning shouldn’t expect to reach acceptance or forgiveness immediately, Michaud said. Some people can forgive someone who commits an injustice against them if the person who was guilty repents or apologizes. Sometimes, that apology never comes, and neither does forgiveness.

Michaud also expects the ripple effects of this jarring crime to touch people in all corners of the state, regardless of whether people knew those involved, because a violent tragedy can shatter a community’s sense of safety.

“Up until now it has been easy to think these things don’t happen here,” he said. “There’s something tragic about the loss of that sense of safety and being at ease in the world. Basic human kindness and decency can be called into question after something like this, and things are never the same.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...